Cats and Cairo

I’ve been in Egypt for about three weeks now.

I fell in love with this country almost instantaneously. However, I haven’t been able to actually decipher exactly what it is I find so mesmerizing about this country, and Cairo in particular. Obviously the hospitality of the people, the genuine cultural character, and the overwhelming antiquity of this place has contributed to the fondness I have for Egypt. You can’t deny the power of any of those things. But there is something else, something… unspoken and almost tragic that I find so captivating. It has taken me this long to get these feelings off the tip of my tongue. Unfortunately, it came at the cost of two cats…

It wasn’t until late last night– when I saw two dirty, malnourished cats tearing one another limb from limb on a dark street in Cairo– that I figured it out.

First of all, for those of you that don’t know Cairo, ferile cats are everywhere. They pretty much run the underside of the city. It’s not altogether uncommon to see a bundle of dead cats by the side of the road, most likely beaten to death by some angry store owner or resident tired of their incessant meowing.

Anyway, these two cats were standing facing one another on the side walk, beside a pile of garbage. The cat on the left was a larger, grey and white cat. His opponent was a frail looking black cat with a swath of white fur on his front left paw. They were both incredibly thin and their ribs were visible through the patches of fur missing from their bodies. They stood there just squealing and hissing. The black cat appeared to know that he was the lesser of the two, and stood in a more defensive position. However, he didn’t appear to be backing down. Instead, as I walked by them, staring at them in horror, they leapt at one another. They were clawing and making noises I’ve only heard in movies (like Monty Python and the Holy Grail where the peasants are heard beating cats in the background).  It was after 2 am so, per usual for Cairo, there were a number of people walking the streets.  They heard the squealing and saw the two cats locked in a death grip but they kept right on walking down the sidewalk; they were completely numb to the life or death battle taking place right in front of them! Maybe it’s because people really are numb; with all those cats wandering around Cairo, cat fights can’t be all that rare. But I think it’s more than that…

Life in Cairo is a constant struggle for everyone, not just the cats. And that is what I love about it…  This country, this city is a reminder that I’m alive. Furthermore, it’s a brutal reminder of what life is really like. Life is suffering. If it’s not, you’re probably doing something wrong.

I’ve always been fairly conscious of the fact that my precious little life is a giant farce.  I parade myself around, feigning meaningful experiences out of fairly ridiculous things. I have actually convinced myself that shoe shopping and reality television has actually improved the quality of my life, when really, it’s done nothing but deaden the senses of both my mind and my poor feet. I can tell you one thing, the kids living on the roof tops of building in Cairo have never needed a pair of stilettos to give their lives meaning and they couldn’t care less about who Bret Michaels picks to be his Rock of Love. They’re too busy selling small packs of tissues to foreigners so they can help feed their families. And yet, somehow, we gluttonous westerners are the miserable ones.

For example, in recent years, Egypt’s economy has stratified the people drastically. There is a small, very wealthy upper class; a massive, very poor lower class; and a rapidly disappearing middle class. The differences in wealth are shamefully apparent all over Cairo. Walking down the streets of Cairo, within a few moments, you’ll be passed by someone driving a BMW followed immediately by someone riding a donkey.

It may seem as though I am complaining about the way Cairo is. In reality, all of this is what I like about it. Life is not easy here. Every morning you wake up in 109 degree weather, sweat-soaked and more exhausted than when you closed your eyes, you remember that you’re alive. Every time you turn away a begging child on the streets of Cairo, you remember that you’re alive. Every time you walk away from an epic cat battle on the streets, you remember that you’re alive.

My greatest fear is that I’ll leave Cairo, return to my monotonous life, and forget how unbelievable it feels to feel…